Growing Tea In The UK (Camellia Sinensis)

Your daily tea comes from two leaves and a bud picked from Camellia Sinensis. This plant originated in China, and the British went to great lengths to get hold of it. This usually entailed disguising yourself as Chinese and infiltrating the tea growing regions of China for cuttings. If caught the outcome was dire. Eventually the plant was grown in other areas of the world such as India, Sri Lanka, Africa, and fairly recently the UK.

Flower and Shrub

Flower and Shrub

If you are already growing camellias in your garden then you already know you can grow this variety. As with all camellias it likes an acid, well drained soil, and will tolerate some snow and frost, but not brutally cold winters. For best flavour light shade is recommended. Camellia Sinensis is an evergreen shrub. Be aware if not kept at wait high it will grow to 2 metres or so, more of a tree than a shrub. The flowers are a pretty white with yellow centre, and scented.

You can grow tea plants from seed, and once you have some plants you can take cuttings. The process to grow plants from seed is straight forward, although you will need some patience.

First get hold of some tea seeds. They are not that expensive and can be found in all the usual places.

The fist step is to soak the large seeds overnight. To assist germination you can file or sand down the outer shell, or go the full hog and de-husk the seeds (If you shake a seed you can feel the inner kernel rattle). Be careful not to damage the kernel.

Next spread the seed on a dish with a paper towel in full sun for a day or two, ensuring the seeds do not dry out. The idea is to get the outer husk to crack to facilitate germination. (If you have removed the kernels ignore this step).

Next sow the seed an inch deep in pots with a well drained compost, say half soil and half perlite/vermiculite. The idea is to keep the seed moist, not wet.

Ensure the pale eye of the seed is horizontal in the pot for best results.

Leave in a shaded but warm place and ensure you do not over water or they will rot. It will take one to two months for seedlings to appear.

Once they appear and can be handled pot them on into larger containers. For the first year overwinter them indoors. Once they are 15cm tall you can consider planting them out with say 1 metre spacing.

Let them grow for say 3 years, and then trim them back to waist high so you can pick and process your own tea.

Camellia Growing Stages

Camellia Growing Stages

Additional – I have found a grower of tea seedlings in the UK, so if you want a few plants I refer you to him.  He is called SeedsFinder on amazon.co.uk and sfplants on ebay.co.uk. Do a search on those websites for those names and you can see his plants.

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